News Analysis

Monday 1 September 2014

Wannabe Tanaiste Adams still stuck in a time warp

Norman Tebbit should not be lectured by smug spokespersons for people who blew up his wife.

Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 13/04/2014 | 02:30

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Norman Tebbit's 'jibe' at Martin McGuinness made headlines
Norman Tebbit's 'jibe' at Martin McGuinness made headlines

Norman Tebbit is never going to win awards for sensitivity. Spitting Image recognised that back in the Eighties, when the satirical puppet show portrayed him as a sinister cross between Mephistopheles and Attila the Hun. Gerry Adams certainly isn't going out on a limb, therefore, when he criticises the former Tory bigwig for suggesting, as the headlines put it, that dissidents should shoot Martin McGuinness in the back for toasting the Queen during President Higgins' state visit to Britain.

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For what it's worth, Tebbit didn't say it quite like that. The BBC was nearer to the mark when it described the comments as a "jibe". An off-colour, inappropriate and (biggest offence of all) not very funny jibe, but a jibe nonetheless. He suggested dissidents might shoot McGuinness in the back, before adding: "We can but hope."

As responses to your wife being permanently disabled in an IRA bombing, those four words are definitely at the milder end of the spectrum; but that didn't stop Gerry Adams from making political capital out of it last week, popping up on Newstalk to insist that politicians across these islands should come together to reject Norm's comments.

Well, if you insist, Gerry. They all reject them. No one ever said, thought, or suggested otherwise. Happy now?

Adams constantly talks about the need to "deal with" the past, but this incident showed again that he's the one living in it. The Sinn Fein leader even declared self-pityingly that if he'd made similar comments, he'd have been pilloried by "the usual suspects" – and, whatever about the casually dismissive phrase, he's right. Had he made similar remarks, the consequences would have been much more serious.

That's because, lest he forget, Adams hopes to be Tanaiste after the next election. Indeed, as he lies in his bath of an evening, tweeting childish nonsense about his rubber duckies, he may dream of being Taoiseach. So, yes, it matters quite a lot what he says and thinks. The same can hardly be said of Norman Tebbit, who last held ministerial office nearly 30 years ago in 1987, and who stepped down as an MP over 20 years ago.

He was, admittedly, asked to come back into government by Mrs Thatcher in the last years of her premiership, but he turned down the offer – because he was looking after his wife. You know, Gerry, the one who was disabled for life by an IRA bomb?

Tebbit may now sit in the House of Lords and be involved with a few political debating clubs, but he's been out of office and out of favour with the Tory Party so long that he's practically a figure of legend to younger members. If Adams genuinely thinks of the 83-year-old Lord Tebbit as a contemporary political figure on a par with himself, that merely suggests the man who would be Tanaiste is still stuck in the Eighties too. That's what you get from having a leader who's been around since before the days when leg warmers were the next big thing.

Norman Tebbit is a private individual. As such, he gets to say what the hell he likes without worrying what the voters think. We may disapprove of his words and he's since withdrawn them anyway, but even if he hadn't, so what?

Most reasonable people would be of the opinion that those who suffered at the hands of terrorism should be given a certain leeway as to how they respond to it, rather than being lectured by the self-righteous spokespersons for people who blew up your wife. That's what Gerry Adams still doesn't seem to get. Victims don't always have nice, fluffy, politically correct responses to the tragedies that befall them and their families. They don't all forgive you. They don't all think you're marvellous because the penny finally dropped and you realised you weren't going to win. Get over it. It's their story too and it's up to them how they choose to tell it.

Sunday Independent

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